In 'Muslim Free Zone' story, not all the news media folks went gunning for the facts

Like the clichéd pig in a python, the saga of the anti-Muslim gun store in Florida has inched through media accounts for more than three months. Now that a judge has ruled in favor of the store owner, let's see who has processed the story best -- and who developed indigestion.

In July, Andy Hallinan declared a "Muslim Free Zone" at his Florida Gun Supply in Inverness, Fla., vowing to sell his wares only to "fellow patriots" who would use the weapons for good -- "like keeping peace, not blowing people up," he says in a video.

That drew a lawsuit by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which accused Hallinan of discrimination on the basis of religion. But a federal district judge in Fort Lauderdale threw out the lawsuit. As the Orlando Sentinel reported yesterday:

CAIR said in the complaint that Florida Gun Supply was depriving Muslims of their civil rights by barring them from the store. CAIR's goal in the filing the complaint was to get a judge to enact an injunction to prevent Florida Gun Supply from discriminating based on religion.
U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom wrote in her ruling last week that CAIR failed to demonstrate that its members had actually been harmed by the "Muslim free" policy because none of its members had been denied access to Florida Gun Supply or its services.

But most of the five articles I read raise questions -- including religious ones -- that they don’t answer. They also lift heavily from one another (though with credit).  The Sentinel itself borrows from a Washington Post report the previous day -- a story nearly three times as long, although Orlando is only about an hour east-southeast of Inverness.

WaPo is more meticulous, reporting that CAIR's suit cited Title II of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The story also quotes Hassan Shibly, director of CAIR Florida, saying the gun store's stance is "not only illegal, it is bad for our country and makes us less safe and less free."

How bad? The Post has that covered too, quoting a Hallinan video:

Hallinan goes on to reveal Muslim-free-zone bumper stickers and shooting targets depicting an armed man in a turban. The targets encourage shooters to aim at the crotch area.
“What’s the difference between a jihadi and E.T.?” Hallinan asks in the video. “Yeah, E.T. got the message and went home.”

All fair game for the Post and other media. Wish they'd been as alert to other issues.

Hallinan tells the newspaper -- another plus; the Post actually talked to him -- that he and Shibly share a "grudging respect." He even invited Shibly to the store, but then rescinded after he heard CAIR was on a list of "designated terror groups." How so? Not explained.

For that, we have to turn to a three-month-old USA Today story, written when CAIR first filed its lawsuit. USA Today interviewed Robert Muise, Hallinan's lawyer (and none of the above did):

Muise noted that CAIR was implicated as an unindicted co-conspirator in 2007 case against the Chicago-area based Holy Land Foundation, which was found guilty of aiding Hamas, U.S.-designated terror organization.
Shibly says that inclusion on the list of unindicted co-conspirators was a tactical move by the prosecutors that chose to list dozens of Muslim organization as part of effort to broaden admissibility of hearsay evidence in the Holy Land case. The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals later ruled that the Justice Department violated the Fifth Amendment rights of hundreds of Muslim groups and individuals when it included them in the unindicted co-conspirator list in 2007.
"CAIR tried in vain to have their name removed from the list of unindicted co-conspirators, but every court that looked at it said that there was sufficient evidence to list them as an unindicted co-conspirator," Muise countered in an e-mail. "The only issue the court had with it with regard to CAIR was that it should have been filed under seal."

By contrast, a HuffPost story is pretty much a patchwork job, with its overnight editor stitching together six reports (although two are previous HuffPo articles). I did like the wordplay, though, like saying Hallinan is "sticking to his guns."

Even better, the article spells out Hallinan's motivation for banning Muslims: "after Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez allegedly killed four Marines and a Navy sailor and injured several others in shootings at multiple locations in Chattanooga." USA Today and the Orlando Sentinel mention the shootings, but they don’t link to a story or name the accused shooter.

You'd think a Fox affiliate would be all over a story like this. But no, WTVT in Tampa Bay ran less than 400 words, along with a 2:30-minute video report. Nearly everything in the video is in the text, except for two things. "I don’t believe every Muslim is evil," Hallinan tells WTVT. "I believe that Islam, at its core, is the problem." Like how? Dunno. The interview cuts off at that point.

HuffPo and WaPo likewise have Hallinan saying he would sell to a Muslim who didn’t follow a "literal interpretation of the Koran." Which verses? Not asked, not answered.

The other omissions by WTVT are any questions about a scripture verse on one of Hallinan's assault rifles -- Matthew 5:9: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God." You can see it clearly in the video, but neither there nor in the text is it addressed. How does one make peace with firearms? We can guess that Hallinan would have said that you secure peace through strength. But Hallinan wasn't asked any of that.

And what church does Hallinan attend? What does his pastor think of his public stance? We don't know.

Finally, no one in all of these reports seems to have asked Hassan Shibly an obvious question: "You say that the court ruling is a warning to Hallinan against turning Muslims away. So, are you going to test him by sending someone to buy guns there?"

Closest is a cryptic anecdote in the USA Today article. It says that a Muslim convert did plan to shop at Florida Gun Supply, but ATF agents met him as he left his hotel and said the store was closed. None of the other four articles I read tried to follow this up. And apparently, USA Today didn’t look him up for quotes. It just took Shibly's word for it.

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